Three out of four individuals allegedly behind the website Mugshots.com were arrested on Wednesday on charges of extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.
On Wednesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed criminal charges against the alleged owners, Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee, and David Usdan.
Sarid and Keesee were arrested in Florida, Bhavnanie was arrested in Pennsylvania. Usdan is suspected to be in Connecticut, where his arrest warrant will be served.
The website gathers data from police and sheriffs' department websites, collecting individuals' names, booking photos and charges. From there, they publish the information online without the persons' consent.
"Once subjects request that their booking photos be removed, they are routed to a secondary website called Unpublisharrest.com and charged a "de-publishing" fee to have the content removed. Mugshots.com does not remove criminal record information until a subject pays the fee," the AG’s Office said.
Even if an individual is cleared of all charges, they are forced to pay to have their photo removed.
"This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else's humiliation," said Attorney General Becerra. "Those who can't afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple."
Over a three-year period, the group extracted more than $64,000 in removal fees from approximately 175 individuals with billing addresses in California. Nationally, the website owners took more than $2 million in removal fees from approximately 5,703 individuals for the same period, according to the AG's Office.
In California, it is illegal to charge people to remove their mugshots, according to the Sacramento Bee . Florida recently passed a similar bill that will make it illegal to make someone pay to have their mugshot removed. The law goes into effect July 1.
If you believe you are a victim of Mugshots.com, you are encouraged to file a police report with your local police department so you will have documentation of your complaint. If your booking photo was taken and published to Mugshots.com, you can report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) https://www.ic3.gov .